I agree with much of what Blair said last week – and there’s a sentence I never expected to write. The response from the committed Brexiteers was entirely predictable, but he is right to say that in a democracy, people opposed to a decision, even one taken democratically, have every right to seek to change that decision, and to persuade others that they too should support a reconsideration of the question.
Given their professed great love for freedom and democracy, why are Brexiteers are so insistent in their demands that this one decision, uniquely, is something that can never ever be revisited? I can only assume that it’s their fear of a different result. I suspect that I’m not alone in thinking that one of the reasons that so many of them are keen on a quick exit and hang the consequences is that the longer the situation drags on the more obvious it will be that the outcome is not going to be the land of milk and honey that they promised us; and their real reasons for wanting Brexit had little to do with the promises which they made.
If the referendum decision had gone the other way, does anyone really believe that Duncan Smith, Farage and their ilk would have said “Oh well, that’s it then” and gone away to do something even less productive? No, of course not – and it would be their right to continue making the case. (In the same way, closer to home, those people opposed to the existence of the National Assembly – and indeed, in some cases, even to the existence of the Welsh nation itself – have every right to continue to campaign for its abolition. I hope they fail, but I accept that the decision that Wales should become a political nation isn’t a once-and-for-ever decision; it’s something that we need to re-affirm continually.)
If, in either case – or indeed on any other issue – clear evidence emerges that public opinion has changed, then there is always a case for revisiting a decision. And campaigning to bring about a change of opinion is a wholly legitimate form of political activity. Blair wasn’t doing much more than making that simple point. Merely asking for a second referendum with no evidence of a significant and sustained opinion shift seems to me to be futile; but working to bring about that shift is another matter entirely.
On that point, it was obvious that Blair was deliberately avoiding the question of a second referendum - perhaps unwisely because it gave the impression that he believed the decision could somehow be changed without further reference to a democratic vote. Whilst I too might prefer not to have referendums which reduce complex questions to a simple binary choice, in the case of Brexit that’s already been done and it is hard to see how those who voted to leave would consider a decision to remain after all to be legitimate without another vote.
Having said all of that, there is a problem with the personage of Blair. I don’t understand how the man who took the UK to war in Iraq on the basis of an outright lie about weapons of mass destruction could stand there with a straight face and accuse the Brexiteers of having lied to get the result they wanted. Pot, kettle, black – could he really not see the way that was going to be interpreted? He has a serious credibility problem as a leader of any campaign given his history.
There is a ‘however’ to that, as well, though. Given that the only debate which any of our mainstream politicians are prepared to engage in is about the nature of Brexit, who else is speaking out? Most of the MPs who told us during the referendum campaign that Brexit would be a huge mistake for the UK have subsequently trooped through the division lobbies of the House of Commons in support of that which they told us would be a disaster. And here in Wales, of the four party groups represented in the Assembly two are committed to full-on Brexit and the other two have decided to restrict themselves to whingeing about the detail.So, this for me is the quandary. For all my doubts about Blair as a leader of anything, who else is stepping up to the plate? Is he really so toxic that it’s better to have no-one making the case than for him to do so?